Thacher Astronomy Students Help Shine Light on Supernovae

In May 2019, Thacher students, Holland Stacey ’21 and Mohammed Rahman CdeP 2020, identified a rare feature in the light curve of a distant supernova that helped researchers better understand the death of stars. Their work was included in the August 5, 2020 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.
The nature of calcium-rich supernovae, the richest source of calcium in the universe, and their mechanism for creating calcium, have remained elusive. A Northwestern University-led team of astronomers, with contributions from the Thacher observatory, has potentially uncovered the true nature of this process. The research was published August 5 in The Astrophysical Journal and warranted a press-release. Nearly 70 co-authors from more than 15 countries contributed to the paper. Two Thacher students—Holland Stacey ’21 and Mohammed Rahman CdeP 2020—were included. 

Data that the Thacher students gathered were key in catching the second of two distinct peaks in the light curve. This is only the second of these events ever to be caught. Dr. Swift, director of the Thacher Observatory, was thrilled with the news: “It is truly rare for high school students to find their way into groundbreaking research warranting a press release. Another proud moment for Thacher!” 

Holland Stacey has been inspired by the work: “Dr. Swift has often mentioned that the forefront of science is like a wall and it takes a hundred people pushing in different places to make it move forward. I am grateful that Thacher and Dr. Swift have given us the opportunity to be a part of something like this.”
The attached image shows the Hubble Space Telescope image of the supernova, SN 2019ehk, in its spiral host galaxy Messier 100. The supernova is identified in red. Photo Credit: Charlie Kilpatrick, University of California Santa Cruz
You can find the journal article here.

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